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USC was the 2012 AP preseason No. 1 team, and it received 19 first place votes – second to Alabama’s 20 – in last year’s preseason Coaches’ Poll.
How did that work out?
Head coach: Urban Meyer
2nd year: 12-0
12th year overall: 116-23
Returning Lettermen: 51
Off. 23, Def. 25, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best Ohio State Players
1. QB Braxton Miller, Jr.
2. LB Ryan Shazier, Jr.
3. CB Bradley Roby, Jr.
4. RB Carlos Hyde, Sr.
5. OG Andrew Norwell, Sr.
6. WR Corey Brown, Sr.
7. S Christian Bryant, Sr.
8. WR Devin Smith, Jr.
9. S Vonn Bell, Fr.
10. S C.J. Barnett, Sr.
9/7 San Diego State
9/14 at California
9/21 Florida A&M
10/5 at Northwestern
10/12 OPEN DATE
10/26 Penn State
11/2 at Purdue
11/9 OPEN DATE
11/16 at Illinois
11/30 at Michigan
Obviously USC’s apples after its brilliant 2011 season don’t quite compare to Ohio State’s oranges going into the 2013 campaign following its shockingly-strong probation year – primarily, the Buckeyes don’t have the depth issues that ended up destroying the Trojans – but let what happened last year to Lane Kiffin’s club be a cautionary tale. There’s a huge, huge difference between having nothing to lose and playing with national title-or-bust pressure.
Teams have a way of tightening up when everything is on the line, and now the entire tone of the program changes after its redshirt season.
There’s no more us-against-the-world attitude, because Ohio State is the world. There’s no more carefree spoiler-team fun, because Ohio State’s season is the one that everyone is trying to spoil. Basically, THE Ohio State University with THE Urban Meyer as its head coach either wins the national title or the season is a failure. It might not seem fair, and it might not be fun, but that’s the deal. You can’t be a program this big and this good with a coach this fantastic and pretend that a Big Ten title means a hill of beans. Wisconsin plays for the Rose Bowl. Ohio State plays for the BCS championship.
But is this Buckeye team really that good? Take a step back; was last year’s team really that good?
Elite teams don’t need an epic late drive to beat Purdue at home in overtime a week after a 52-49 shootout with Indiana. The overtime win at Wisconsin was nice, but that Badger team, despite Bret Bielema’s bluster, never had its foot on the gas until it went to Indianapolis knowing Penn State and Ohio State were ineligible for the Leaders title. The blowout win over Nebraska was impressive, and beating Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State was strong, but we’re all adults here – the Big Ten wasn’t exactly the SEC West.
However, you are what your record is, and Meyer did a brilliant job getting his team up for each and every game on the way to its unbeaten campaign. Now the real work begins.
The phenomenal recruiting classes should ensure superpower status over the next several seasons, but everything has to go right for a team with more question marks and concerns than most starry-eyed Buckeye fans want to admit.
If superstar quarterback Braxton Miller takes one big shot and gets knocked out – and he takes a lot of big shots – as good as Kenny Guiton is, the Buckeyes won’t go undefeated, it won’t win the national title, and the season will be over. If the defensive front seven that has to replace six starters isn’t better as last season’s very good, but inconsistent front seven, the Buckeyes won’t go undefeated, it won’t win the national title, and the season will be over. If the pass protection isn’t better, if the veteran secondary isn’t a bit tighter, if the freshmen class doesn’t live up to its billing right away, if teams play a wee bit harder now that Ohio State games matter, if Ohio State doesn’t play a wee bit better now that its games matter, the Buckeyes won’t go undefeated, it won’t win the national title, and the season will be over.
But this is Urban Meyer and this is Ohio State, so don’t be shocked if the Buckeyes go undefeated, win the national title, and the season will be over.
What to watch for on offense: More passing and more running from the running backs. Urban Meyer didn’t get to be Urban Meyer by being dumb. He knows Braxton Miller is built like a Tim Tebow-like fullback, and he knows it’s probably not a great idea to let the franchise superstar run when he doesn’t have to. Michigan tried that with Denard Robinson, and Shoelaces ended up dinged after every other carry. Miller will still run the ball, but this offseason he worked exclusively on becoming a stronger and more efficient midrange passer. With Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and Bri’onte Dunn in the backfield, there’s absolutely no need to let the quarterback run and run and run some more. The backs should do more of the heavy lifting, but when it’s Miller time, he’ll do what he does best.
What to watch for on defense: How fast can the front seven be dominant? In theory, this should work out fine, but now the talent has to come through. The secondary is solid and full of excellent hitters, but it also finished 11th in the Big Ten in pass defense. Teams are going to challenge the new Buckeye defensive front, and while there’s talent and a little bit of experience, there’s also a prove-it factor to deal with. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington will be fine on the ends, but the tackle rotation has to be sound from the start. Ryan Shazier will be an All-America candidate, but Curtis Grant needs to produce up to his prep hype in the middle.
The team will be far better if … the defense can come up with more turnovers and big plays. The offense has experience and it should be more efficient, effective and explosive, but last year the team seemed to kick it into another gear when the takeaways started to come. The Michigan game became a dogfight, but the four takeaways were a big help. The four Nebraska turnovers were a big part of the blowout, but there were only three recovered fumbles before the final two games and just four picks spread out over the final six games. For the year, the wins over Miami University, UCF, UAB, Nebraska and Michigan were the only ones with multiple takeaways.
The schedule: The Buckeyes have the schedule to go unbeaten again, or they’ll at least have the ability and potential to get close. Considering California is rebuilding, San Diego State might be the most dangerous non-conference game. Buffalo and Florida A&M will be warm-ups, and they’ll need them before starting out the Big Ten schedule with the game they must have.
Michigan might be Ohio State’s biggest rival, but Wisconsin is the team that matters in the division; Ohio State can’t blow the Big Ten home opener. Going to Northwestern the week after isn’t going to be easy, but then it’s time to relax with a week off before hosting Iowa and Penn State before going to Purdue. With another week off before the finishing kick, there shouldn’t be any problems with a road trip to Illinois and a home game against Indiana. OSU will be favored in every with the possible exception of the finale. No matter what else happens throughout the year, the road trip to Michigan will be focused on all season long.
Best offensive player: Junior QB Braxton Miller. It’s possible, and almost preferable, if Miller becomes less dynamic and more effective. The big runs are nice, and Meyer will never get away from letting his quarterback run the ball, but the more Miller can spread the wealth around and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, the better. However, he’s a Heisman candidate with the potential and talent to carry the team by himself at times. If he doesn’t have to, great, but defenses will always have to wonder when the bomb will go off.
Best defensive player: Junior LB Ryan Shazier. The Buckeye playmaker did everything for the defense including finishing second in the conference in tackles with a consistent and effective season. All over the field all the time, he was tremendous in pass coverage – highlighted by five broken up throws against Indiana – and he was a big pass rusher when he needed to be. As the only returning starter to the defensive front seven, he’ll have to do it all over again.
Key player to a successful season: Junior LB Curtis Grant. The defensive ends will be fine and there are enough options to play around with at tackle to find the right combination, but the defensive front seven needs the man in the middle to be steady, and that means Grant has to be terrific. The former super-recruit hasn’t set the world on fire making ten career tackles in 18 games, but now he’s getting his chance to live up to his potential. The defense needs him to be great.
The season will be a success if … the Buckeyes play for the national title. They’re not as good as Alabama, Georgia, and a handful of other teams across the country, but they’re better than everyone on the schedule including Wisconsin and Michigan. Good team, great coach, soft schedule; anything less than a Big Ten title will be a total disaster, and anything less than at least 12-1 before the bowl will be a mega-disappointment.
Key game: Sept. 28 vs. Wisconsin. Next year the Michigan game truly matters again when the two superpowers are in the same division, but the Big Ten opener against the Badgers is more important in the grand scheme of the season. Northwestern might be pesky and going to Michigan won’t be a breeze, but if all goes according to plan, it should be smooth sailing until late November if the Buckeyes can dropkick Bucky.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Rushing TDs: Ohio State 37 – Opponents 14
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: Ohio State 149 – Opponents 58
- 4th Down Conversions: Ohio State 7-of-9 (78%) – Opponents 10-of-23 (43%)
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